Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording

The Original London Cast Recording for Rags – The Musical is released by Ghostlight Records, the first to capture the many changes to the show

“What if we never meet again?”

Sometimes a musical just doesn’t grab you, and so it was for me with Rags The Musical. The show received its UK premiere at the Northern powerhouse that is the Hope Mill Theatre in February 2019 and transferred to the Park Theatre in London at the beginning of 2020 and despite its excellent notices, I just didn’t fancy it. The universe clearly wants me to hear it one way or another though, as Ghostlight Records are now releasing an official London cast recording, the first for this show since 1991.

I think my ambivalence might have stemmed from a lack of love for Fiddler on the Roof (I know…). And Rags was initially conceived in 1986 as a sequel of sorts by book-writer Joseph Stein, as he explores the experience of a group of Jewish immigrants as they arrive in the US. Over the years though, David Thompson has considerably revised it and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics and Charles Strouse’s music have also been substantially tinkered with. Musicals are ever a work in progress but such overhauling doesn’t always inspire the greatest confidence – credit then to director Bronagh Lagan and musical director Joe Bunker for refining this material in such a stylish manner. Continue reading “Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording”

Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

“Its simple truth speaks volumes in a world where hatred rages”

Following on from the re-release of his self-titled album earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr gives us another opportunity to sink into his world of soulful jazz with an album of reinterpreted holiday classics in Simply Christmas on S-Curve Records. And I do mean sink into like the most comfortable sofa you can imagine, in front of a log fire and drinking a nice cup of Charbonnel and Walker, for this is rich and luxurious stuff – as evidenced halfway into opening track ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ when a softly funky breakdown envelops you in its warmth like a marshmallow on top of that hot chocolate.

Dangerously seductive in Hamilton, Odom Jr will lose precisely zero fans here with this lush yet restrained style. Arrangements are kept simple, allowing heartfelt vocals to imbue tracks like ‘The First Noel’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ with renewed life. Equally, the piano and vocal improvs in ‘My Favourite Things’ keep things utterly fresh without losing sight of the overall vision of the record. The gentle guitar accompaniment to The Carpenters’ ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ is a thing of loveliness and Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s new festive standard ‘Winter Song’ blooms gorgeously under the treatment.  Continue reading “Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride”

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

Album Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 

And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. Continue reading “Album Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)”

Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould

“There’s still music in the air…”

As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals – Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection. 

The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong – Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on ‘Perfect Companion’. But it’s the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown’s reflective ‘The Flowers Have Faded’, the raw anger of Keith Ramsay’s ‘I Want You To See You’ and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt’s ‘Losing Him’ are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here.  Continue reading “Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould”

Review: Starting Here Starting Now, Pheasantry

“What’s my life been lived for, if it never comes”

Just a quickie for this first of two Maltby and Shire revues taking place at the Pheasantry. Next week sees Closer Than Ever but first up is Starting Here, Starting Now, celebrating its 40th anniversary with this production by Neil Eckersley. The American pairing of composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr have had a long and fruitful career and this show, first seen in 1976, collected together a swathe of songs from the early part of their career, numbers that didn’t necessarily make it into their bigger shows or indeed into the limelight.

Which means that they aren’t always the most striking snippets of musical theatre in miniature. Granted, the majority are character studies, pieces of emotional minidramas, but as a selection box of songs, they don’t add up to a huge deal, their style is naturally somewhat old-fashioned and so it was hard to get too excited. What did raise the pulse was the musicianship on show – Sam Lupton, Carolyn Maitland, and Kayleigh McKnight all impressed whether in solo, duet or altogether under Kris Rawlinson’s taut musical direction. More of a curio than a must-see.

Booking until 20th April

Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre with TodayTix

“I’ll do my dance, I’ll make them drink”
 

I’m pretty there’s a clause in the gay contract that means it is illegal to turn down the offer of drinks in the Julie Andrews room so who was I to resist when the folks at TodayTix invited me to try out their mobile ticketing app by coming along to see Miss Saigon. Founders Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty have had big success on Broadway with their service, offering tickets for a range of shows one week to one hour before showtime and boasting of enabling tickets to be purchased in 30 seconds or less.

And I have to say that they’ve pretty much nailed it. The interface of the app is bright and easy to use (certainly it was on my iPhone6), there’s a wide range of West End shows available and the process of choosing and booking tickets at all price levels is simple and speedy with a little seatmap showing you where in the theatre your selected seats are. It really does streamline the ticket-buying process so that making any last minute decisions to see a show that much easier. Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre with TodayTix”

Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

“Why God? Why today?” 

I wasn’t the hugest fan of Miss Saigon first time round as my review from then clearly attests but I’m never one to be entirely closed-minded (though it may not often seem that way…) so when the opportunity to take a friend who had not previously been popped up, I made a return visit to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is still basking in the glow of recently winning 9 What’s On Stage awards and it is clear that it is attracting a younger and atypically passionate crowd (for a West End show at least). 

That passion cuts both ways though as the overexcited group behind us couldn’t hold back from the flash photography and the young woman in front of me was less enthused than the rest of her party and spent most of the show on Facebook. It makes for a different kind of theatre experience when you’re having to do battle with that kind of behaviour but given my continued lack of engagement with the storyline of this particular musical theatre behemoth, it was as much a distraction for me as anything.  Continue reading “Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”